The sound of train whistles was joined by the sounds of old-time music at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park during the Augusta Heritage Center October Old-Time Retreat.
The retreat is usually held at Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, where Augusta is located, but this year, the center chose to branch out and have a change of scenery.
Executive director Seth Young said Augusta participated in a Pocahontas County Bicentennial event at Cass last year and that was when the seed was planted to have this event at Cass.
“What they commissioned us to do was to help them curate songs from the logging camps from the early days of Pocahontas County,” Young explained.
“[Gerry Milnes] – is one of the foremost experts on those songs and those tunes. We had him as well as some other folks who were very steeped in music traditions of Pocahontas County.”
After that experience, Young said he worked with Cass superintendent Marshall Markley to organize the week-long event.
For the retreat, the group used the community center, Masonic Lodge and company houses for classes, jams, cultural sessions, meals and housing.
Artistic director Emily Miller said it was great to have a small community setting for the event.
“We visited with this in mind, and it was like, ‘this is magical,’” she said. “It has been perfect. We have all the houses on a row, so we can just have a little community and walk up and down by the beautiful picket fences and white houses. We eat at the Masonic Lodge, so everything is right here and everyone is having a great time.
“The music emanating out of the community hall, the Masons’ Lodge at night, is really exciting,” she added.
The retreat was Wednesday through Sunday and included classes in fiddle, dulcimer, singing, banjo and building a tuning repertoire for any instrument. After taking classes in the morning, participants would break for lunch, then meet at the community building for a cultural session.
Afternoons had one-shot lessons, jam sessions and after dinner, concerts and even more jamming.
On Saturday evening, the community building was the site of a masquerade square dance in celebration of Halloween.
After a successful week of old-time music in a beautiful and historic setting, Young said he hopes to return to Cass in the future – for Augusta events and personally.
“We have been trying to match the event with a place that’s also magical, and I think we found that with Cass,” he said. “We want to be in Cass more often. I tell you what, I’d come down here myself and stay sometime. You’re not going to find a better place to study the music of this region, in this town, with this 117 year old train whistle going off, the company store and the ladies at the Last Run Restaurant. It just has been beyond awesome.”
For more information about August Heritage Center and its programs, visit AugustaArtsandCulture.org